How to be a Great Toastmasters Club Sponsor, Mentor, or Coach

After the District Executive Committee meeting this morning in District 30 of Toastmasters, which covers the entire Chicagoland area, there was an hour presentation by Dietmar M. Wagenknecht, who is not only a Distinguished Toastmaster, but a Past International Director and the Region Advisor last year for Region 5 (Midwest United States), on the differences and similarities between being a club sponsor, a club mentor, and a club coach.    The presentation lasted an hour, but the Q&A session afterwards lasted half an hour, which shows you how much the audience of District, Division and Area officers was interested in what he had to say on the topic.  

This is a summary of his talk.   

The basic difference, according to Dietmar, between the club sponsor, mentor, and coach is as follows:

A club sponsor is the “midwife” of the club, the one who helps get a club going up to the point where the club charters.   This happens when there are 20 members who sign up for the club:   at that time, the club mentor takes over and guides the newborn club for at least the first six months of its “infancy.”    If a club falls back down below 12 members, it is a club coach
goes in like a club doctor:   he or she observes the “patient”, recommends measures for to improve the club’s health, but it is the patient who must take the medicine and regain health, the doctor cannot take the medicine for the patient.

Let’s take a look at these three roles in a little more detail.

1.   Club Sponsor

The relevant documents at the Toastmasters International website that give guidance for a club sponsor are:

  • #12
  • #1139
  • #319A
  • #218H

The sponsor is the one who takes the prospect of a new club, sets up what are called “demonstration meetings” to show prospective members what a real Toastmasters meeting looks like, and then guides the meetings until 20 members join and the club is officially chartered.

A sponsor of a corporate club is going to have to engage upper management in supporting the club.    Dietmar says that sometimes this is done by approaching a single person such as the HR manager, but sometimes a presentation is done in front of a group of managers.    Something he recommends when doing this is to start the conversation by asking the group of managers how many of them have ever been in Toastmasters.    You may be surprised how many hands go up–this will give you an automatic indication of how many managers are essentially already “pre-sold” on the idea of how much Toastmasters can benefit the company.

When there is only one person who is the gatekeeper, it sometimes happens that the person is not receptive.   In those cases, keep up the contact with that company, and many times when the management changes, the position of the company towards Toastmasters will also change.

The sponsor may become one of the 20 charter members of the club, but the sponsor must leave the club officer roles to others after the series of demonstration meetings are completed.

The measure of success for a club sponsor is if the club gets 20 members to sign up and have the club chartered.

2.  Club Mentor

The relevant document at the Toastmasters International website that gives guidance for a club mentor is:

  • #218G

Normally, a sponsor will choose a mentor to take over once the club charters, but Dietmar recommends that there are 2 or more mentors.   The reason is that it is important that a mentor attend every meeting to the greatest extent possible.   This goal is easier to achieve when there are 2 or more mentors.   He recommends that the mentor get to the club 30 minutes before the meeting starts.    That way the mentor can observe to see how the Sergeant-At-Arms (SAA) sets up the club meeting place, and how the club officers coordinate their roles before the meeting officially starts.   The club mentor should ask the club president to have 5 minutes at the end of the agenda so that the mentor can act as kind of a “General Evaluator”, giving specific advice on what went well, and what could be improved at the next meeting.

Any specific advice to individual club officers rather than to the club in general should be given privately to those club officers, and not in front of the entire club.

One other recommendation from Dietmar for the club mentor was that rather than having the sponsor hand off the club to the mentor at the time of chartering the club, the mentor should actually be involved BEFORE the club charters.    And again, it’s preferable to have a mentoring TEAM or 2 or more mentors rather than just one mentor.    Can the mentor BE a member of the club that is being mentored?    Yes, the mentor can be a member and do speeches, take on roles, etc., as an example to others, but the mentor should not be a club officer.    The club officers are the ones that will have to run the meetings, even after the mentorship is done.

The measure of success of a club mentor is following the club for six months or, even better, an entire year, with the club remaining at the same 20-member strength is started out as, or better.    If you stay with the club an entire year, you’ll start to see educational awards such as the Competent Communicator or Competent Leadership award.   That will be gratifying repayment indeed for all of your efforts.

3.   Club Coach

The relevant documents at the Toastmasters International website that give guidance for a club mentor are:

  • #1152
  • #218F
  • Club Coach troubleshooting guide (Dietmar doesn’t know the number, but it can be found on the website)

Although the rules say that a club coach is for a club that has less than 12 members, in Dietmar’s experience, this is waiting until the patient is almost moribund.   Action should be taken when the club has between 12-16 members, because it is easier to turn around a club at that stage than it is if there are less than 12 members.

As a club coach, your first function is to go in and observe.   Remember, just as a doctor cannot diagnose the patient without doing a medical examination and taking a medical history, you cannot as a club coach go in and prescribe any solutions without first making close observations of how the club is run and what the interactions are between club officers, between club officers and members, and between members and guests.

A healthy club needs to attract guests and take care of its members.    An unhealthy club needs to first prioritize bringing in guests and making them feel welcome.    One of the problems about a club that has less than 12 members is that most people feel more comfortable in a larger club.   Dietmar couldn’t say whether it’s the fact that a larger club has more “energy”, or what, but having fewer members can make attracting guests and having them return more difficult, which makes the whole thing a vicious cycle, or self-fulfilling prophecy.    You need to counter the lack of members with more enthusiasm from the members that already exist.    Have special themes to the meeting, especially around the holidays.    Have open house events, with speakers brought in by the Area Governor from outside the club.   Make table topics more fun.    There are a lot of ways to make the experience more memorable for guests, and this is the kind of thing that will have them coming back and signing up as a member.

One thing that helps attract guests is having a good website presence, with photos and even videos of club members doing speeches.    Once the guests comes to the club, he or she should receive a guest visitor pack, which should have the following items:

  • 2  copies of the Toastmaster magazine (one current, one older)
  • standard promotional literature (on the values and benefits that Toastmasters brings)
  • membership form (partially filled out with club name, number, etc., so all the guest has to do is fill in personal information, and club dues must be clearly indicated)
  • business card (to VP Membership or other club officers)

4.  Similarities between Club Sponsor, Mentor, or Coach

In all three cases, here’s the elements you bring to the club:

a)  Strategic planning

b)  Coaching (advice, suggestions for improvement)

c)  Organization

d)  Recognition of achievements by club members, officers, and club as a whole

These are valuable assets you bring to clubs, and by giving of your time, you are helping to foster the growth of new clubs (in the case of a sponsor or mentor) or the retention of existing clubs (in the case of a coach).   In either case, you are contributing in a vital way to the Toastmasters International organization!

The measure of success of a club coach is whether the club goes from having less than 12 members to having 20 or more members and becoming a Distinguished Club, which means capturing 5 out of the 10 goals in the Distinguished Club Program.    A question was asked in the Q&A session about what happens if the club never improves to that point:   does that mean that you don’t get credit towards the Advanced Leadership Silver (ALS) award?    The answer said Dietmar is “yes and no”.    No, you can’t get credit under the “club sponsor, mentor, or coach” requirement of the ALS award.   However, if you try to be a club coach and the club does not achieve these milestones, you can document your efforts as a club coach in a High Performance Leadership project, which is another requirement for the ALS award.    You will still have to be a club sponsor, mentor, or coach, but you will at least get something for your efforts.

One month ago, I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a club sponsor, mentor or coach at some point in the future.   After Dietmar’s talk, I was excited enough about the program that I am going to look for an opportunity NOW to make this a reality.    Thanks, Dietmar!


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